Geordie Williamson

Why ‘burning man’? Because in this immense, obsessive, studiously unkempt work, the biographer brings accelerant to the raging bonfire that is D.H. Lawrence’s reputation and pours it with pyromaniacal glee. Frances Wilson’s new life of the writer stands athwart the accumulated crimes of which Lawrence stands accused – his obstreperousness, his intense and absurd hatreds, his dubious politics, the physical and metaphysical violence he committed against women – and demands a halt to the trial.

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Back in my bookselling days during the early noughties, I spent a grey London autumn in the company of W.B. Yeats. My employers were Maggs Bros., an old Quaker firm and the queen’s booksellers, then based in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square: a venue that sounds glamorous but wasn’t, or at least not for me. The job involved much sitting in an underheated basement, beneath windows that offered a glimpse of passing ankles, cataloguing my way through stacks that bulged with a collection of Irish literature, predominantly by or associated with Yeats, assembled with frugal determination and frankly insane completism over decades by an autodidact bus conductor from South London.

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A tantalising ‘what if?’ emerges from the opening chapters of Hermione Lee’s immense, intricately researched life of Tom Stoppard. On the day in 1939 when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, the future playwright’s assimilated Jewish parents were obliged to flee the Moravian town where they lived. They made it to Singapore, only to endure Japanese invasion soon afterward. Stoppard’s mother, Martha, had to move again, and swiftly, with her two sons while her beloved husband, Eugen, a doctor, remained behind to aid with civilian defence. His evacuation ship was destroyed, and he was lost, presumably drowned, a little later. But when Stoppard’s mother boarded her own ship, earlier in 1941, she thought it was headed for Australia. Only later did she learn that India was their destination.

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‘When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.’ That gunshot of a quotation comes from the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. I suspect he means writers are traitors to biology – they have higher allegiances than blood ties. Art is their true spouse; their works are the favoured first-born.

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To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser

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A healthy suspicion should surround books that arrive neatly on some commemorative due date – in this case, the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is not that biographer Fiona Sampson is less than able and diligent in her efforts to celebrate a novel which has resonated like ...

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‘In nearly all Trevor’s stories,’ wrote V.S. Pritchett almost four decades ago, ‘we are led on at first by plain unpretending words about things done to prosaic people; then comes this explosion of conscience, the assertion of will which in some cases may lead to hallucination and madness.’ Even here, in this collection ...

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To celebrate the best books of 2017 Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser, Susan Wyndham, James Ley, Geordie Williamson, Jane Sullivan, Tom Griffiths, Mark Edele, and Brenda Niall.

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Every author has some version of origin story: a narrative describing what it was that first compelled him or her to write, or at least what attracted them to the role. You can hear the tale harden into myth as an emerging author shapes themselves to those obligatory rubrics of self-disclosure required by writers’ festivals. Sometimes ...

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The Best Australian Essays 2016 edited by Geordie Williamson

by
March 2017, no. 389

An annual challenge: how to select essays which capture the moment but live beyond the immediate?

For some, rigour matters. The series editor for The Best American Essays invites magazine editors and writers to submit contributions to a Boston postal address. The rules are strict: an essay is a literary work that shows ‘an awareness of craft and f ...

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